When we marry or form a long term committed relationship we may not realise that when we make a commitment to our partner we also inherit their family as well. While you love your partner, you may not feel the same way about his parents. Cambridge psychologist Terri Apter found that 3 out of 4 couples experienced significant conflict with their in-laws, with the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law dynamic being the most problematic.
Some of the biggest sources of tension between a woman and her in-laws can be the pressure to have children, as well as differing views on parenting once children come along. Many of the issues with in-laws arise because there are unclear boundaries, differences in family values, cultural issues, and a lack of respect for your role in your partner’s life.
So what can you do if you are having problems with your in-laws?
Talk to Your Partner
If you are feeling uncomfortable or criticised by your in-laws, then let your partner know how you feel. This is not something you need to cope with on your own and your partner may be unaware of how you are feeling. Even if your partner sees the situation differently to you, it is important that you work together with you on how to resolve the situation. Give examples of how particular behaviours or situations make you feel, rather than criticising your in-laws personally. Your partner is likely to react more defensively if they feel you are attacking someone they love. Your partner may have a very different view of the situation to you so it may take time for you to understand each other’s perspectives.
Identify What You Want to Change
Only you and your partner can make the changes in this situation so looking at what needs to change is a joint effort. You may not be in agreement with these changes, so it may take several conversations before you come up with strategies that you both agree with. Growing up in different families mean we have differing views on what is normal behaviour. What can feel like closeness to one partner, can feel like control for another partner. Listening with respect to each other’s perspectives is an important part of coming to an agreement of what needs to change.
We set boundaries in all our relationships whether we are aware of it or not. We train people how to treat us with what we are willing to allow in their behaviour. Until we say no to a behaviour, people will continue to exhibit it towards us. Just as we have standards of behaviour with our colleagues, friends and our children, we also need to have boundaries with our parents and in-laws. Sometimes it is not until we are a committed relationship that we realise we need to renegotiate those boundaries. Work together on what boundaries you want to set with your in-laws and how you will establish these.
Your Parents, Your Responsibility
If the issue is with your parents, then it’s your responsibility to lead the communication with your parents. If the issue is with your in-laws then it’s your partner’s responsibility to take the lead role. The goal is to present a united front for both of you. Siding or colluding with your parents against your partner is damaging to your relationship so if your parents are trying to drive a wedge between you, staying strong is key.
If you find that you are having difficulty setting boundaries with your parents or as a couple you are dealing with pressure from one or both sets of your parents, then I can support you. Working with a couples therapist can help you sort out those family dynamics and establish clear and positive communication channels. Don’t let your parents or your in-laws put a wedge in your relationship and create lasting damage – let’s talk before it breaks. Contact me now.